Public Transport as a Provider of MaaS in Rural Areas: Mission (Im)Possible?

Public Transport as a Provider of MaaS in Rural Areas: Mission (Im)Possible?

Lars E. Olsson (Karlstad University, Sweden) and Margareta Friman (Karlstad University, Sweden)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1614-0.ch005
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Mobility as a service (MaaS), in this case study, involves the integration of different travel modes into a mutual service that handles bookings and payments for individual trips. In this chapter, the authors discuss how a public transport authority has developed a MaaS for rural areas by integrating a public transport service with carpooling. The project's development, the platform's functionality, ideas for future development, and experiences of the service are analyzed from both a management and a user perspective. One overall conclusion reached is that public transport may very well develop and offer MaaS; however, there are a number of barriers to overcome concerning the legal aspects, changed travel behaviors, and density.
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Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is a relatively new and innovative concept whose background is the ongoing development of information technology. The starting point here is the potential to create new services by linking different travel modes together into a completely new type of mobility service. Since the area is new, many different definitions have been provided regarding the characteristics of Mobility as a Service. A recently published review of definitions, assessments of schemes, and key challenges (Jittrapirom et al. 2017) points out that Mobility as a Service can be thought of as a concept, a phenomenon, or a new transport solution. It is concluded that the novelty and fuzzy nature of MaaS makes defining what it really is a challenge.

However, one early definition of MaaS describes it as a system whereby a transport operator offers a number of mobility services (like a bundle of travel offers) to the user (Heikkilä, 2014). Within the MaaS-Alliance network, which works toward spreading MaaS around the world, a broader definition is used, which focuses more on users and their demands for a well-functioning mobility service. The MaaS-Alliance describes how Mobility as a Service puts the user in the center and offers customized solutions based on his/her need for mobility. Although Jittrapirom et al. (2017) speak of the fuzziness surrounding the MaaS concept, they nevertheless present a definition that focuses on new services based on mobility needs that are combined with new technology and merged in a new transport solution. The common denominator of the different definitions is the bundling of different mobility offerings into one mutual service.

If MaaS becomes a reality, this will certainly lead to changed practice in public transport. How this change will look is difficult to predict; however, by following the initiatives that are taken, it will be possible to gain more knowledge of the difficulties, challenges and best practices that public transport can use to prepare for the future. One regional public transport authority in Sweden (Blekingetrafiken) decided, early on, to learn more about the development of new service concept and to implement a MaaS-like service (the Hämta [pick-up] platform) in rural areas. The original idea was to include carpooling in the public transport offering, with the aim of helping users to find each other so that they could travel together, in their own private cars, either to their final destinations or to public transport stops. Thus, the user of the service could either choose to use the carpooling service alone or the carpooling service in combination with public transport. This offer was to be developed and offered by the public transport authority as an owner of the service. This chapter describes Blekingetrafiken's experiences of offering MaaS as one of the first regional public transport authorities in Sweden to do so. In this study, the project's development, the platform's functionality, ideas for future development, and experiences of the service will be analyzed from both a management and a user perspective.

Meeting the mobility needs of people living in rural areas is a challenge facing public transport. In addition to increased car use, sparsely-populated areas and an aging population are important explanations for this difficulty. The frequent use of cars in sparsely-populated areas leads to fewer people using public transport, which makes it difficult to justify the existence of a public transport service, both from an economic and a sustainable perspective. Offering a service that suits different groups at a reasonable cost is very difficult without heavy subsidization. At the same time, both researchers and politicians often agree that public transport is important for the continuing existence and further development of rural areas, providing access to education, work, and leisure activities. Furthermore, for the elderly, public transport is often a prerequisite for living in a rural area when driving is no longer an option. Several studies show that certain groups are particularly vulnerable, from a mobility point of view, in rural areas. This particularly applies to people who do not have a driver’s license and/or access to a car and to people who, for health reasons, find it difficult to travel by public transport. Brake and Nelson (2007) argue that the increased use of the car leads to public transport being abandoned, with those affected being the elderly, the young, the disabled and households with low incomes.

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